In last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama outlined an economic opportunity agenda encompassing a range of policy proposals to provide a fair shot for working families. But Virginians eager to see progress on a working families’ economic agenda don’t have to wait for Congress to get off their duffs. Virginia’s Women’s Equality Coalition and Economic Opportunity Coalition have advanced a range of proposals the General Assembly can act on now, before they adjourn at the end of February.
“That’s what middle-class economics is — the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. We don’t just want everyone to share in America’s success — we want everyone to contribute to our success.” – President Obama, 2015 State of the Union
In Virginia, we know that economic growth comes from the middle out, not the top down. Here are some of the proposals before the 2015 General Assembly to help build a Virginia that works for everyone.
“Nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages. That’s why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. Really. It’s 2015. It’s time.” – President Obama, 2015 State of the Union
Women deserve to be paid fairly. It’s that simple.Ensuring women are compensated fairly is a vital step in building a Virginia that works for everyone. SB772 (McEachin) and HB1823 (Herring) would strengthen Virginia’s equal pay laws to ensure women aren’t discriminated against in the workplace. And SB772 would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for sharing salary information, a key obstacle preventing women from obtaining equal pay for equal work.
Raise the minimum wage
“To everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.” – President Obama, 2015 State of the Union
In November, the Economic Opportunity Coalition did just that: challenged General Assembly members to live on a minimum wage budget for just one week. Now legislators are carrying several bills designed to ensure that no one who works hard and plays by the rules has to raise a family in poverty. In the Senate, SB704 (Favola) would allow localities to establish a minimum wage to support workers in their communities, while HB1654 (Plum) and HB1512 (Simon) would lift wages of approximately 700,000 workers statewide and HB2198 (Krupicka) would allow Virginians to voice their support for raising the wage through a statewide referendum.
Expand access to paid sick days
“We’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers. Forty-three million workers have no paid sick leave. Forty-three million. Think about that. And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home.” – President Obama, 2015 State of the Union
Everybody gets sick, but not everybody can afford to take time off to get better or care for a sick kid. Over one million Virginia workers don’t have a paid sick day. That means when they or a family member get sick, they have to choose between jeopardizing public health or risking their family’s economic security. In the House, HB2008 (Kory) would expand access to paid time off while additional proposals are awaiting bill numbers.
Tax policies for working families
“As Americans, we don’t mind paying our fair share of taxes, as long as everybody else does, too. But for far too long, lobbyists have rigged the tax code with loopholes that let some corporations pay nothing while others pay full freight. They’ve riddled it with giveaways the superrich don’t need, denying a break to middle class families who do…. We need a tax code that truly helps working Americans trying to get a leg up in the new economy, and we can achieve that together.” – President Obama, 2015 State of the Union
The lowest-income households pay a greater share of their income to state and local taxes than all other households. Virginia lawmakers have a critical opportunity to help working families and to strengthen the economy and local businesses by making the Earned Income Credit refundable. SB810 (Edwards) and HB1831 (Plum) are targeted tax credits that low-wage Virginians can claim at tax time to reduce what they owe in state income tax. They can only be claimed by people who earn income through work, and the credit is structured to encourage people to work more hours. Making the EIC fully refundable would put more money in the pockets of Virginia’s hard-working, low-wage families.
Lowering the cost of higher education
“By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education. Two in three. And yet, we still live in a country where too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need. It’s not fair to them, and it’s not smart for our future.” – President Obama, 2015 State of the Union
In 2014, the national student debt load surpassed $1 trillion dollars. Helping students graduate from college with a quality education and fewer loans to repay is a key priority for economic growth and opportunity. HB1877 (Krupicka) would sunset the coal employment tax credit, a giveaway the General Assembly’s own watchdog agency found was doing nothing to prevent the loss of coal jobs, and reinvest those millions in a special fund to provide grants to students seeking a college degree in Virginia.
The General Assembly can act now to expand economic opportunity for working families and take major steps towards building a Virginia that works for everyone. Virginia families are waiting.